‘Ask a Slave’: Come Down to the Plantation

In her new Web series, actress Azie Dungey plays a plantation housemaid and takes questions about life.

Actress Azie Dungey in costume (AskASlave.com)
Actress Azie Dungey in costume (AskASlave.com)

(The Root) — The Harriet Tubman role was the last straw. After recurring guest spots spanning slavery to the civil rights movement, actress Azie Dungey was over the days of old.

“The future just seemed like more history,” said Dungey. When a friend forming a historical actors’ troupe asked Dungey, who’d just finished playing a housemaid and slave at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in suburban Virginia, to fill the role of Harriet Tubman, it was as if the universe were conspiring against her.

“When I got home,” recalled Dungey, “I was like, ‘OK, that’s it.’ I felt like if I stayed in D.C. that’s what I would end up doing.” “That” is performing the past instead of living in the present.

So Dungey packed up and moved across the country to Los Angeles. But instead of leaving her regional-theater chops behind in a file marked “Never Again,” Dungey used her unique résumé to create the Web series Ask a Slave.

In the series Dungey plays Lizzie Mae, a housemaid on George Washington’s estate. Despite living in 1795, Lizzie hosts her own television show in which people on the street get to ask her anything they want about her life. Questions like, “Why are you a slave?” and “Where do your kids go to school?” are based on actual encounters Dungey had while working part-time as a living-history character at Mount Vernon.

Since its debut just last week, Ask a Slave has racked up a total of nearly 800,000 views for all three episodes released thus far. Recently Dungey talked with The Root about the “completely positive” reaction to the show, season 2 and life after Lizzie. 

The Root: Was there an aha moment when you thought: “You know what? Web series!”?

Azie Dungey: I had these stories that I had been telling my friends and family, and they were like, “Write them down. This is hilarious and/or terrible.” I thought about a one-woman show for a while, but then I couldn’t really have the questioners. I got the idea about a year into working at Mount Vernon in 2010, and during that same time I was thinking about moving to L.A.

TR: How did your production team come together?

AD: I just moved about nine months ago. I was chatting with a girl at a party and said, “You won’t believe my last job.” She told me to contact Jordan Black, a Groundlings alum, who has an all-black improv show called The Black Version. So I Facebook-messaged him out of the blue and he wrote back, “Yeah, I’m really interested.” Everybody was on board right away. I think the concept is very interesting to people, and Jordan is definitely a pro at doing racially charged comedy with social commentary.

TR: What kind of response have you gotten from viewers?